Long before Zach Veach was signed by Andretti Autosport and became the next big thing in open-wheel racing, he was just a kid who loved to race go-karts.
After winning a race in middle school and receiving a hat as a trophy, the Stockdale, Ohio, native proudly wore the hat to school the next day. That is, until a football player grabbed it off his head, threw it in the trash and poured milk all over it.
Undeterred, the next time Veach won a hat, he signed it and gave it to the same bully who had trashed his first hat.
Veach didn't stop there. Now a 17-year-old junior who attends school online through the K-12 program, Veach has become an anti-bullying advocate. He's part of the national No Bull campaign and has made numerous speeches and media appearances talking about his own experiences being bullied.
And that's just the beginning. Veach has also developed the urTXT app, which provides teens with an alternative to texting while driving. He is also a member of the Pencils Of Promise program, joining forces with the likes of Justin Bieber to help raise funds to build schools in the developing world. Additionally, he wrote the book "99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16," which gives tips for teens trying to navigate their way through adolescence.
Somehow, he also finds time to race. Since signing with Michael Andretti's team in 2010, Veach has won a pair of Winter Series championships and is now driving in the Star Mazda Championship. On Saturday, he will race in the Night Before the 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway. He one day hopes to win the Indy 500, which would bring his career full circle, as he would once again have to deal with getting doused with milk.
We caught up with Veach to talk about his career to date.
ESPNHS: What inspired you to get into open-wheel racing?
Veach: Ever since I was little it was just something I wanted to do. My dad laughed it off and figured it was just a stage, but I never quit asking him. He was a national champion in the truck and tractor pulling, and one year it was time for him to renew his contract, but instead of renewing he sold everything and used that money to start me on my racing career. I'll never be able to thank him enough.
ESPNHS: Which IndyCar racers did you look up to when you were younger?
Veach: Ironically enough, Michael Andretti, who owns the team I'm on now. It's crazy, because when I was little I used to race my Hot Wheels and it would always be me against Michael Andretti.
ESPNHS: How were you discovered and signed by Andretti's team?
Veach: I got really lucky. I got some publicity because I was going to be the youngest driver ever in the Atlantic Championship series in 2010, but then the series was canceled because of the bad economy. The Andretti Autosport team must have heard about me that way, and so a few days after the series was canceled I signed with them.
ESPNHS: What's your proudest moment on the track?
Veach: A lot of people would probably say their first win, but mine was actually a third-place finish. It was my second race in the Star Mazda Championship, and we were running seventh or eighth during practice, but I went back to the hotel room and just studied that course for hours. I ended up finishing third, which showed me how much dedication and attention to detail can matter.
ESPNHS: What's been the biggest turning point in your career so far?
Veach: I've only been racing for five years, but the thing that has been most beneficial is signing on to a team like Andretti Autosport. You've got the best people around you and the best equipment, so you learn everything that much more quickly. And any time I have a question, I'm asking the best people in the business.
ESPNHS: What's it like competing against much older racers?
Veach: It's a different feeling. I'm not only one of the youngest, but definitely one of the smallest (5-2, 100 pounds). There are definitely times other racers think they can push me around, but I try to give it right back to them.
ESPNHS: Do you ever miss going to a traditional school as opposed to taking classes online?
Veach: There's maybe one aspect of traditional high school that I miss: girls. Other than that, I really do like the online school. I can't even express how much it's allowed me to do. With traveling so much and always needing to be at the track, it's nice to be able to schoolwork on my own schedule. As long as I've got my laptop, I've got my school right there.
ESPNHS: What motivates you to be so active outside of racing?
Veach: I think when you're in a position where people give you a platform to speak, you need to make the most of it. I've been given the opportunity to help people and inspire people, and I want to take advantage of it.
ESPNHS: What prompted you to create the urTXT app?
Veach: There was a girl I knew from my hometown who had just gotten her license and she was texting while driving and she pulled out in front of a tractor-trailer and lost her life. It was so tragic, and I didn't want to ever hear a story like that again.